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COVERAGE: U.S. Open Countdown Begins at Oakmont

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Photo credits: Pittsburgh Golf Now/Zachary Weiss & Chris Pohl

OAKMONT, Pa. — As USGA Managing Director of Communications and Content Beth Major was enjoying a rare moment off from a busy summer schedule when she looked up to the sky and spotted a familiar site to Pittsburgh golf fans.

The clouds displayed a bizarre striped pattern and that was when it clicked that she felt she was seeing Oakmont Country Club’s infamous Church Pews bunker.

“I thought two things,” Major recalled. “First, ‘Wow, you must really work in golf, when you are looking at the clouds and thinking of golf courses and the church pews,’ but it really also goes to show the impact that Oakmont Country Club has on so many of us and the place that it holds in our hearts.”

Wednesday morning was considered a passing of the torch as the U.S. Open trophy officially arrived at Oakmont Country Club, a feeling of collective excitement as an event was briefly held to drum up excitement for Pittsburgh as it prepares to host its record 10th U.S. Open.

Oakmont is one of three anchor sites for the USGA with Pinehurst, which just hosted this year’s U.S. Open, being another. Pebble Beach rounds out the trio.

Major conceded when the anchor-site announcement was made in 2021, some were wondering what the goal was with said announcement, but she also explained that hopefully that became clearer two months ago and will furthermore be the case come next June.

Tim Lloyd, USGA Senior Director of the U.S. Open, expanded upon that sentiment. Lloyd lived in Pittsburgh leading up to the 2016 U.S. Open and is doing so again in preparation for 2025.

“One of the reasons we announced the anchor site is not just because of the golf course, but the community,” Lloyd said. “It’s so supportive and having that is so critical for us. The community support around here is one of the great places we go. We’ve had feedback from players and other people in our organization that where champions win is important.

“To have champions win, not just the U.S. Open but other championships here, is great. We’re extremely intent upon preserving the history of the game and continuing to go back to places such as Oakmont supports that.”

Oakmont last hosted the U.S. Amateur in 2021, in which James Piot bested Austin Greaser. Piot was a part of LIV Golf for two years and Greaser has made multiple starts on the Korn Ferry Tour, most recently scaring the lead before tying for fourth place at the Memorial Health Championship.

The goal for both the USGA and Oakmont Country Club is creating an elite championship experience from the top on down and build momentum achieved at this year’s U.S. Open.

This relationship between Oakmont Country Club and the USGA goes back to 1903. The club founder’s son W.C. Fownes served as the first USGA president from 1926-27 and also became the first ever Walker Cup captain in 1922 after being instrumental in the amateur team event’s creation.

As an anchor site, Oakmont, which has already hosted 17 USGA championships, will contest its third-ever U.S. Women’s Open in 2028, its first Walker Cup in 2032 and first U.S. Women’s Amateur in 2046.

“Events have been scheduled through 2049, we have 25 more years of partnership with the USGA,” Oakmont Country Club President John Lynch explained. “It is truly overwhelming, and we are incredibly proud and thankful to be partnered with the USGA for another 25 years.”

Feedback from Pittsburgh golf fans has already been overwhelming as evidenced by 3,500 volunteers signing up since applications opened up in the spring and having been filled in near record time.

Weekly tickets have also gone on sale, with early returns quite positive.

Some in the USGA have gone as far to consider Oakmont Country Club home. Count Major as one of those. This is her third USGA championship at the course, but the eight-year gap since the most recent Open vanished almost immediately upon arrival.

“When I came up the steps today, our president Fred Perpall is very fond of talking about when you fit somewhere, you really feel it,” concluded Major.

“When I walked out the doors, even though I hadn’t been here in eight years, I truly felt like I was coming home because it’s just such a wonderful, warm, inviting place. The people are wonderful, the community is absolutely wonderful, and we really just can’t enough about being here and feeling like you’re coming home.”

FAMILIAR NAME RESTORES OAKMONT

Oakmont last hosted the U.S. Open in 2016, when Dustin Johnson triumphed with a total of 4-under par.

As Lloyd recalled the event, his first thought turned to the lightning and rain which intervened during Thursday’s first round play, but when it came to determining if the course could open to fans on Friday, it took a group effort that led to a successful week.

“The way the maintenance team got the course back ready to go for the players, how our operations team got the property ready back for fans, from our off-site parking lots to the on-site property, it goes to show what we can do when our backs up against the wall,” he offered. “It was about what a great experience it was for everyone out here and not really about a washout.

“It was a great championship, a great champion and great fan experience.”

Oakmont’s Head Golf Professional Devin Gee knows that his course is many things, but one thing he is ussure of is if “too tough” is in the club’s dictionary.

Last year’s renovation to the course was headed by Gil Hanse, who has done the same with many noteworthy courses, including recent U.S. Open hosts Los Angeles Country Club and The Country Club at Brookline.

“He is the master and we’ve seen that throughout the past few championships,” analyzed Gee. “Gil is an incredible listener and certainly listened to our membership, wanted to understand the history. One of the unique things about Oakmont is our membership demands a challenging golf course day in and day out. It’s been that way since the beginning.

“That was something that (Hanse) understood from the get-go. He was very open ears with that and what he did out there, everyone will be proud next year and on a daily basis. Everyone is ecstatic with it.”

Among the changes to Oakmont Country Club is over 200 yards added in length, which was done strategically. There was also the realignment of bunkers, so that they remain in play, and green expansions that will lead to new hole locations, some of which can be determined by expected weather.

Despite the changes, Gee believes that the main tenet of Oakmont Country Club remains the same: Get your tee shot in the fairway.

“We talk about the greens a lot, but Oakmont’s a driving golf course, you have to hit your golf ball in the fairway, whether it’s today where the rough is two-and-a-half inches, or U.S. Open where it’s U.S. Open rough,” Gee deduced. “You have to hit your ball in the fairway to have any chance and then get below the hole.”

Lloyd has played Oakmont since the restoration and smiled when he revealed that he did break 80, albeit from different tees. This included a couple of birdies on the drivable par-4 17th hole.

This summer, Pinehurst showcased an ability to find a balance, dancing the line between challenging and fair. While 2016 featured some rain, the 2007 event — won by Angel Cabrera over an in-his-prime Tiger Woods — allowed the course to show its teeth.

It that happens, with this new look, that firmness and speed Oakmont has will challenge every player in the field.

“After Gil Hanse’s fantastic restoration, we are hoping the tees, new pin placements and higher rough will produce a score above par,” concluded Lynch. “So much of this is depending on weather and we pray that there’s no rain for this particular open.”

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